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When IBM Watson beat Jeopardy’s two most successful champions in 2011, the world was introduced to the power and ability of cognitive computing.

We talk a lot about Watson when describing our technology, and we get asked a lot of questions about what this means.

Are you an IBM Company?  Is your technology all Watson or do you build your own?  Is Watson your investor or a technology partner?  

Here is the shortest possible answer:  IBM Watson was an investor on our series A round of funding.  More importantly, working with Watson allows us access to a whole host of things a tiny startup wouldn’t normally have.  We utilize IBM’s cloud platform, Bluemix, and employ some cognitive services, like AlchemyAPI, to further our product’s portability and understand content in context. Watson also allows us to reach a broader audience and collaborate on the latest technology.  Overall, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

But let’s back up and give you a little history on Watson, artificial intelligence, and the IBM Watson Ecosystem.

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A quick history of cognitive and computing

IBM was one of the first companies to move into the artificial intelligence space, or cognitive computing, in 2011.  This was not the first foray for any company into the artificial intelligence but it was one of the most public pushes to move the technology industry into the next wave of computing.

Prior to cognitive computing, we passed through eras of tabulation, which ushered in single purpose mechanical counting machines, and the programming era, where coded software performed logical operations and loops.  Both of these systems are helpful, they are deterministic in that they can’t work with unstructured data and uncertainty.  Cognitive and artificial intelligence technologies are probabilistic, in that they can deal with complexity and unpredictability. These new technologies go beyond ingesting structured data to process a determined outcome.  They understand unstructured data, the context of that data, and can provide recommendations on how to approach a courses of action.

Simply put — this was a HUGE change that required building a new category of an industry.

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So what exactly is Watson?

IBM Watson is not a person or robot looking to take over the world.  Sorry Terminator fans, that is a long way off.  IBM Watson, along with other artificial intelligence technologies, supplement human intelligence with the ever increasing amount of data available to us.

IBM Watson is not a black box.  It does not have all the answers to every question with every piece of data ever invented or to be invented. If this existed, surely all the world’s problems would be solved and Watson’s inventors would be really rich living on an island somewhere.  This doesn’t exist because we are at the beginning stages of utilizing this technology to solve real world problems.

So let’s talk about what Watson is, rather than what it is not.  

Watson is a set of expanding cognitive technologies that can be used to extend human cognition.

That’s a mouthful, so think of software development as building a Lego tower.  Watson has a specific set of Legos that help solve specific problems that one would encounter when building an artificial intelligence application, like speech to text or language conversion.  Developers can access these special legos to build the base of his or her own artificial intelligence software based on your business’ needs.  They can also cast their own Legos and add them to the finished product.

Now that we understand how IBM Watson services work, how does they relate to WayBlazer?

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WayBlazer is an IBM Ecosystem partner

When IBM put its technology up against Jeopardy’s competitors, it made a vow to grow not just its own cognitive computing business, but an entire new category of computing.  To do this, IBM Watson dedicated part of its business to growing this category through content, people, and applications.

Content is the key to building a successful artificial intelligence application.  Content is also a very tricky thing to license, share, and sell.  Watson works with tons of different content providers, like media companies, to facilitate the use of their content in ecosystem partners’ products.

Now that you have the content, you need the right people to build your application.  The skills needed to build a true artificial intelligence application are not only highly demanded, but also incredibly rare, so rare that many universities are beginning to introduce programs in this field.  The Watson Ecosystem created a vetted network of cognitive computing experts in technology and business that can be tapped to help build your application.  This is invaluable in the fierce world of technical talent wrangling.

WayBlazer is an application partner, which means we have access to all of IBM Watson’s services to build, test, and publish our application on Watson’s dedicated Developer Cloud.  This means we can choose which legos fit best with the problem we are trying to solve for travel customers: hotel conversion.

So far, it’s been incredible being a part of the Ecosystem.  We’ve been in two commercials, had features in high profile publications, and gotten real estate on the Watson Ecosystem page.  For a startup our size, this has incredible reach that we could never duplicate.  Thank you, Watson Ecosystem team!  

More importantly, we work together on innovations for both of our products.  We regularly meet with the team to provide feedback on services, learn about new services, and brainstorm what would be best for ecosystem partners, like us, going forward.  We serve as a strategic technology partner to a Fortune 500.  They take us seriously, and that’s pretty awesome.

All in all, it’s been an exciting ride so far working with Watson and we can’t wait for what’s ahead.